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Time to Remove Kirner’s “Trigger” Lock, for the Children

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, columnist Dan Henninger declared that the ongoing failure of inner-city schools – in which students are passed through the system “without the skills to do much more than achieve a minimal level of lifetime earnings” – “remains the greatest moral catastrophe in the political life of the United States.”

Personally, I think Mr. Henninger is sugar-coating it.

Henninger was writing about the future of public charter schools in New York City, noting that the Democrat candidate for mayor, Bill de Blasio, “under pressure from the city’s teachers union, will start demanding rent payments from public charter schools that now operate rent-free in the same buildings occupied by traditional public schools.”

Apparently New York City public charter schools, which are public schools funded with public taxpayer dollars, are allowed to operate in public school buildings, which, of course, makes all the sense in the world.

Alas, no such provision allowing public charter schools to operate in public school buildings exists in Nevada, which, of course, makes no sense whatsoever.

It also goes a long way towards explaining why there are so few charter schools open and operating in Nevada despite a public perception to the contrary. Indeed, in a dinner conversation with Democrat congressional candidate Erin Bilbray-Kohn recently, she ventured that Nevada had around 150 charter schools in operation.

Actually, it’s just 35.

By contrast, in neighboring Arizona there are well over 526 public charter schools.

And need I remind everyone that when it comes to education quality, Nevada ranks, if not dead last, pretty darned near dead last. Think that’s just a coincidence?

And don’t try blaming it on our Hispanic kids. I’ve been to Phoenix. Recently. And, son of a gun, a lot of Hispanic kids live there, too!

And my friend Dr. Ben Chavis has never had a problem providing a superior education to Hispanic kids in his public charter schools in Oakland’s inner city.

By the way; that multi-million dollar ELL program being promoted by Gov. Brian Sandoval and State Sen. Moderate Mike Roberson? That ain’t gonna fix the problem either…but it WILL hire more teacher union members.

Fact is the greatest impediment to opening and operating more public charter schools here in Nevada is the humongous start-up costs involved in finding a building in which to operate the school. I know. I’ve considered opening one here myself. Can’t afford it.

While taxpayers pay for the buildings used by our crappy regular public schools, public charter school operators need to fund their own building acquisition and/or leasing costs. Which is insanely expensive. Which is one reason why we have so few public charter schools. And why so many new public charter schools are being forced to open as “virtual” charter schools, in which students participate online from home instead of attending a brick-and-mortar campus.

Granted, a recent change in Nevada law has set up a program for lending money to start-up charter schools, but that’s still not good enough. Loans have to be repaid, ultimately with taxpayer dollars anyway. So why can’t vacant or underperforming regular public school buildings be converted into a public charter school?

Indeed, a bill to allow just that, sponsored by Nevada State Sen. Aaron Ford (D-Las Vegas), which would have allowed the parents of an underperforming public school to vote to convert it to a public charter school, passed in the state Senate this year.

Unfortunately and stupidly, it was killed in the state Assembly by Republicans – foolishly misled by Assemblyman Randy Kirner (R-Reno) – who voted against this “parental trigger” bill because Kirner claimed, wrongly, that it violated the state prohibition against using a public school building for a public charter school.

Republicans are their own worst enemy sometimes.

Whether or not the state law prohibiting the use of public buildings to house a public charter school would also prohibit “parental trigger” conversions isn’t the point. The point is if we want more charter schools in Nevada – and we’d better if we ever hope to actually improve education here – we need to completely remove this ridiculous prohibition in state law.

Public charter schools are public schools which should be allowed to use public school buildings just like the other public schools. Is there a legislator out there who cares enough about the education of our children to propose removing Assemblyman Kirner’s “trigger” lock?